¡hola papi!

‘Can Your Partner Ever Really Know You?’

Illustration: Pedro Nekoi

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

¡Hola, Papi!

After a painful dating experience, I dated one of the nicest and friendliest people ever (I don’t encounter those folks often in the dating world). The trouble was I didn’t feel seen or known by this person, so I called it off. I’ve toiled with regret as I’ve wondered for months if I made a mistake prioritizing something deeper and intangible over daily kindness and humorous moments (he has been in a relationship for seven months now, so that ship has sailed).

I’ve been wondering if I was hasty in breaking up after five months or if “being known” is something one can attain in a relationship at all. What do you think it means to be known by another, and how important is that in the space of a partnership? 

“Unknown” Sender

Hey there, Unknown!

Well, first of all, no: You will never be fully known by another person. You will not even fully know yourself. Do you think people who fully know themselves write letters to internet advice columnists? No. This is an activity for people who are definitely getting reincarnated for another go-around. I’m in the same boat. See you again in 80 years.

On the plus side, I don’t think we need to fully know anyone to have a good time. Indeed, the mystery is like the seasoning. Exploring another person, exploring yourself, exploring each other — it brings excitement and wonder. It makes things fun!

And you know, Unknown, if it’s not fun, if it isn’t doing it for you, then you simply don’t have to do it.

I am acquainted with many people I enjoy on a casual level. The conversation is pleasant, and I have generally good feelings for them, but we don’t go much deeper than that. I’m convinced that between any two people, no matter how explosive or unremarkable their relationship is, there is an untold number of chemical reactions happening all at once that determine the shape and texture of the dynamic.

Sometimes the elements of another person are incredibly appealing on paper, but there’s just no reaction on your end. It doesn’t activate the way it needs to. Who knows, in the interminable and fathomless equation, what’s missing? Maybe nothing is “missing” at all. Maybe the result just isn’t the size and shape of romantic love. That’s fine.

Someone can be really great and still not be great in a romantic relationship with you. I know many wonderful, caring people who aren’t dating me. Indeed, most of the wonderful people I know aren’t dating me. We have our own thing going on.

I’m not saying, Unknown, that things can’t change. I’ve had friends become romantic partners and romantic partners go back to friends. Our priorities shift over time, and you know what? Yes! Sometimes what we want out of a relationship isn’t great. Sometimes we want the wrong things. This is true.

But the solution isn’t to trudge through a dynamic we aren’t committed to. That isn’t fair to ourselves or to the other person. Call me newfangled, but I prefer being with a person who enjoys being with me and doesn’t see it as a chore. Don’t worry about calling this off. It sounds as though they ended up just fine.

You won’t always feel as if you’re “known” in a relationship. You will probably often feel misunderstood, as humans often do, and you will probably often misunderstand yourself. But, at its best, a relationship gives us new ways of seeing ourselves that feel good and healthy while offering us the opportunity to see someone else on a deeper level.

It never stops being an exploration. There’s no point where the map is entirely filled out. So you should be sure this is a person you want to stay on that journey with. That’s the part you need to really know, and I think, on a gut level, you will.

Also breaking up after five months is “hasty”? This is how I “know” this letter isn’t from a gay man. Hope you feel a little seen.

Con mucho amor,

Originally published December 19, 2022.

This column first ran in John Paul Brammer’s Hola Papi newsletter, which you can subscribe to on Substack. Purchase JP Brammer’s book Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessonshere.

‘Can Your Partner Ever Really Know You?’